More and more in today's modern NBA positional lines and roles have become blurred. Much has been made of the integration of a variety of roles on the offensive end.
Point guards need to be scorers and not just passers. Power forwards are playing on the perimeter now more than ever. The role of non-shooting big men has transitioned from playing with their backs to the basket to setting hard screens and diving to the basket from different angles.
But, often, we forget the game is played on both the offensive end and defensive end.
Just look at the Warriors. Their roster is filled with players who can guard multiple positions and that unique setup is one of the many reasons why they'll be a force in the league for years to come.
Conversely, the Wizards' lack of versatility has been a big part of their struggles this season. Teams have been able to take advantage of Washington's slow rotations, botched switches, and mismatches to pick up easy points. All of that has changed since the Wizards traded for Markieff Morris at the trade deadline.
Prior to the All-Star break, the Wizards allowed 105.2 points per 100 possessions according to NBA.com's stats tool, the 10th worst mark in the league. Opponents also posted a 52.6 percent effective field goal percentage against them, which was the second highest percentage allowed in the league.
Since the trade deadline, the Wizards are only allowing 98.9 points per 100 possessions, the third-best mark in the NBA behind the Atlanta Hawks and San Antonio Spurs. There's a large improvement there, and a lot of it has to do with the acquisition of Morris along with better execution in their defensive scheme.
Many of the improvements were on display in the second half of Saturday's game against the Knicks. Let's start by taking a look at Morris guarding Carmelo Anthony. The Wizards shifted him over to guard Anthony after Otto Porter struggled guarding Anthony in the first half.
Even though Carmelo is having a below-average scoring season, he is still one of the best isolation scorers in the league. Conversely, Porter hasn't been stout defensively this season in isolation situations. He is allowing .98 points per possession according to NBA.com's synergy tool. Morris is only allowing .44 points per possession in isolation situations.
Although the sample of isolation plays defended is small, Morris is in the 98th percentile of players defending isolation plays in the league. Morris finds himself in the same percentile with post-up defense, allowing just .45 points per possession since coming to Washington.
Morris also was able to take on Anthony in pick and roll situations. He held his own, forcing him into bad decisions and shots throughout the second half. He was even able to keep up with Anthony after he rejected a Kevin Seraphin screen.
Even in today's NBA, most modern big men do not have the foot speed and balance to keep up with perimeter players in the pick and roll game. Carmelo Anthony may not be the fastest player coming off a pick, but usually he can still able to get by slower big men with ease. Yet as we see here, Morris has the foot speed and the strength to keep Anthony in front of him.
Morris was also able to move over picks as Anthony tried to screen him off as the ball handler. There aren't many players in the NBA at Morris' size who can do what he does on this play:
But the Wizards' defensive improvement also goes beyond Morris. The other major difference in the Wizards' defense over the last month is that their rotations are on target, which helps them beat the offense to the spots they want to get to.
Gortat moves out to the perimeter on the side pick and roll Anthony takes. He shows, blocks Anthony's path to the baseline keeps a wide stance to prevent a split with Morris covering the middle.
Robin Lopez has an open space to dive here and Anthony makes the right play to beat the trap. Instead of waiting and keeping his dribble, he picks the ball up and throws it to where he anticipates Lopez will drop.
But Otto Porter, who has been a very good weakside help defender this season, rotates quickly enough to prevent an easy catch from Lopez.
This is the type of defense the Wizards originally planned on employing throughout the season, and now they finally have the personnel to employ it effectively. The Wizards have improved drastically on that end with Morris since the trade deadline with the exception of their five-game losing streak.
On Saturday, they were able to claw their way back into a game where they were down 18 points and turned things around with their defense in the second half. After a 5-12 start for Anthony, Morris held him to 2-9 shooting from the field and just six points the rest of the way
The Wizards may not be able to make the playoffs this season and are playing catch-up at this point, but this is a positive going into next season. They may have lost a first round pick for this season in the Morris trade, but that sacrifice may be worth it as this team transitions into the future.